Opinion: Rock vets upstage Swift at year's end

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 at 1:45am
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Bono of U2

It's rare when one performer these days dominates multiple genres, but that was definitely the case in 2009 with Taylor Swift, who became a familiar face on awards programs and also the youngest performer ever to win the Country Music Association's most prestigous honor, Entertainer of the Year.

Swift also earned the top prize at the American Music Awards and positioned herself to take Artist of the Year, song and album of the Year at the 2010 Grammy awards.

She even was featured in the most celebrated incident of 2009, watching in what looked to some like horror and others like a staged performance when Kanye West bounded on stage at the Video Music Awards to protest what he deemed an injustice.

That move got West weeks worth of bad publicity, but didn't prevent him from claiming Billboard's Male Vocal Performer of the Year.

But it was actually a deceased male artist who captured even more headlines in 2009 as the death of Michael Jackson in mid-year proved both a huge music event and a major news story.

Prior to his sudden passing Jackson had been known more for bizarre headlines and scandalous news stories, but his funeral attracted widespread international coverage and sales of his catalog were so great that Billboard at year's end announced changes in their Top 200 to reflect the commercial prominence of older albums.

But for my money, it was rock's veterans, such as Wilco, U2 and Green Day, who led the way artistically in 2009.

The industry continued to downsize, even though there's general agreement that more people are buying all types of music than ever before.

But the hegemony of labels and radio no longer shapes the nation's taste as it did prior to the dawn of the Internet and the emergence of downloading, satellite and Internet stations and IPOD's. Today fans get their songs and albums from many locales, and in many cases corporate labels are viewed as unnecessary and potentially even a creative obstacle.

Likewise, the proliferation of blogs and music sites resulted in the loss of formerly influential publications and magazines like Blender and Vibe. There's no shortage of music books being published, nor magazines covering various scenes, but now the trick is to either diversify into lifestyle, related idioms and even technology and games  (Rolling Stone, Paste, Spin) or take a genre-specific position that can't be duplicated by competitors (The Source, Billboard, Country Weekly, Music Row, Jazz Times, Downbeat, Living Blues).

These are great times for those who truly love all types of music — from purists who only enjoy a particular genre or era to those whose tastes are shaped totally by what they see on television and hear on corporate radio.

But with apologies to Jacko, Taylor and Kayne, here are my choices for favorite releases of the year in various genres — making no claims about "best" anything (a critical arrogance that's misleading and inaccurate no matter who does it and why). They are one music lover's guide to some excellent releases that were issued in 2009. (And also not listed in any particular order.)

Pop/rock

Wilco - Wilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)
Flaming Lips - Embryonic (Warner Bros).
Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk (Shangri-La)
Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown (Reprise)
U2 - No Line On The Horizon (Interscope)
Sonic Youth - The Eternal  (Matador)
Bob Dylan - Together Through Life (Columbia)
John Mayer- Battle Studies (Columbia)
Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane, & Sugarcane (Hear Music)
Decemberists - Hazards of Love (Capitol)

R&B/Urban/Rap

Maxwell - Blacksummer's Night (Columbia)
Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon: The End of Day (Universal/Motown)
Eminem - Relapse (Interscope/Aftermath/Shady)
Rihanna - Rated R (Def Jam)
Seal - Soul (WB)
The Dream - Love vs. Money (Radiokilla/Def Jam")
Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3 (Def Jam)
Dead Prez/DJ Lantern - Pulse of the People (Invasion)
India.arie - Testimony Vol 2: Love & Politics (Songbird/Republic)
Mos Def - The Ecstatic (Downtown)
 
Country/Bluegrass/Americana

Brad Paisley - American Saturday Night (Arista Nashville)
George Strait - Twang (MCA)
Reba McEntire - Keep On Loving You (Valory)
Joe Nichols - Old Things New (Universal South)
Miranda Lambert - Revolution (Columbia Nashville)
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - Lonely Street (Rounder)
Alecia Nugent - Hillbilly Goddess (Rounder)
Rhonda Vincent - Destination Life (Rounder)
Dailey & Vincent - Brothers From Different Mothers (Rounder)
Avett Brothers - I and Love and You (American/Columbia)
 
Jazz/Blues

James Carter - Heaven on Earth (Half Note)
Robert Glasper - Double Booked (Blue Note)
Henry Threadgill Zooid - Things Bring Us To, Vol. 1 (PI)
Stefon Harris - Urbanos (Concord)
Steve Kuhn - Mostly Coltrane (ECM)
Allen Toussaint - The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch)
Corey Harris - blu.black (Concord)
Robert Cray - This Time (Nozzle/Vanguard)
Otis Taylor - Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs (Telarc)
Tommy Castro - Hard Believer (Alligator)
 
World/International

Baaba Maal - Television (Palm)
Tinariwen - Companions (World Village)
Oumou Sangare - Seya (Nonesuch)
Ziggy Marley - Family Time (Tuff Gong)
Miguel Zenon - Esta Plena (Marsalis Music)
Amadou & Miriamn - Welcome to Mali (Nonesuch)
Jah Cure - The Universal Cure (Danger Zone)
Rokia Traore - Tchamantche (Nonesuch)
Kimi Djabate - Karam (Cumbancha)
Various Artists - Reggae Gold 2009 (VP)
 
Label of the Year

Nonesuch Records (for ignoring categories, demographics and trends and simply putting out great music.